Another Niqab Controversy [Quebec "defense" of French too far?]

Yes, of course. But if they are wearing veils out of deference to religious prohibitions against women participating in the public sphere, then ISTM they should not be attempting to participate in the public sphere.

This is the “burqa = pardah” argument that I’ve made before in threads like this one. Namely, the requirement in some Islamic cultures for women to cover their faces in public is part of the general principle of pardah or “purdah”, the idea that women should stay “behind the curtain” of private and family life.

Cultures that practice pardah are maintaining the principle that women do not belong in the public sphere, and in particular should not interact with male strangers in any way.

Total veiling of women (wearing combinations of garments variously known as burqa, niqab, chador, abaya, etc.) outside the home is intended as a practical compromise with the pardah principle. It recognizes that the necessities of life compel women to leave the house sometimes to go shopping, go to the doctor, etc., and allows them to symbolically take the privacy of the house with them. The veil for pardah-nishin women isn’t just a modest garment, it’s a symbolic cloak of invisibility signifying that they’re not really “in public” even though they have to be outside their private home environment temporarily.

And I’m totally fine with that practice and think that Western societies that pride themselves on freedom and religious tolerance should accommodate it. Pardah-nishin women should indeed be allowed to wear veils while riding buses, shopping at the supermarket, using gas station restrooms, whatever they have to do while being outside their home environment. Very few people find it practically feasible to stay in their own houses all the time, even if they believe in principle that they ought to do so, and I’m happy to follow the convention of letting veiled women go about their most necessary errands while visually pretending that they’re not really there.

HOWEVER. I think that open democratic societies have a right to make their own rules about expectations for people participating in their public spheres. It is not unreasonable to expect that a person who is, say, applying for a job requiring them to deal with strangers, or enrolling in a class with other students, is tacitly consenting to participating in that society’s public sphere.

And if that person insists on wearing a veil or following some other practice that is fundamentally based on the principle that they DON’T participate in the public sphere, then I think that’s somewhat disrespectful to the society they’re living in. If you want to be pardah-nishin, then be pardah-nishin, but if you’re going to voluntarily participate in society’s public sphere, then you can’t be pardah-nishin.

Good points, Kimstu. Well said.

Good points. She did indeed have the opportunity to stay at home and do classes online, which, as you’ve pointed out, would not involve her interacting with the public sphere that she is morally opposed to interacting with. I’m getting a whiff of, “I want to do things the way I want to do them, and I want a completely different culture to accommodate me.”

Is religious freedom somehow different from speech or assembly? I doubt it, and so there’s is noting intrinsically wrong with placing certain bounds on it.

Or, on the other hand, like billions of people from every culture on the planet, she is engaging in some habit of her culture without anything but the vaguest sense of where the practice comes from or what it means.

Your argument sounded like it addressed the practical issue of veils and trust. My response addressed that. I was not saying anything about the law.

Stop messing up my nice clean distinctions of principle with your damn gray areas. :wink:

Seriously, I was just thinking about this and similar issues. Like, what if a woman in a pardah-observing subculture wants to have more independence and public participation in her life, and the only way her menfolks will allow her to do something like, say, enroll in a French class is if she continues to wear the veil?

Should we stand on principle and refuse to let her participate in the public sphere while following a custom that symbolizes her non-participation in the public sphere, or should we bend the principle a bit to help her out in her personal quest for more autonomy?

The principle I articulated in my previous post still seems pretty clear to me, but I confess I’m rather stumped about the way to enforce it in practice.

you can be ignorant of your own culture when you are immersed in it and everyone around you acts the same way…so there is no reason to think about where a certain practice comes from or what it means. “Everybody dresses this way, so why should I think about the reasons?”

But when you move far away,you are a tiny minority, your behavior is totally abnormal in your new society, you suffer daily from impolite stares and rude comments, you are made to feel unwanted and you are expelled from school,… you damn well ought to have a more than a “vague sense” of why you practice your rituals. You have to hold a strong conviction about the rules you live by.
…And other people around you also hold strong convictions about the rules which they live by, and legitimately expect you to obey when you are in public with them.

In India, holy men walk around stark naked.
And I totally respect them and support their right to do so…in India

It seems fairly clear to me: where the veil does not represent a danger, e.g. a woman attempting to drive in a veil, or entering a bank or convenience store (or similar places where there is a high risk of robbery) or where the veil runs entirely counter to the purpose, like attending to certain medical or dental care needs, then you accommodate women in veils.

What if ‘other people’ just plain don’t like Muslims, Jews, or Sikhs? Should these people dress like everyone else so as to avoid rudeness and worse by these others?

Sounds boring to me.

Assuming my clothing doesn’t cause actual problems for other people (and I appreciate that a Niqab might under some circumstances), seems to me it isn’t anyone’s business what I choose to wear, as long as minimum standards of decency and decorum under the cirumstances are met.

Hey, if they do that here in Canada in February, they must be really holy. :smiley:

:eek: Holy zeppole, you’re much more draconian about restricting veils than I would be. Not letting veiled women into a convenience store? Can’t get much more “routine essential or emergency needs” for pardah-nishin women than a local convenience store.

I do see your point about the risk of robbers dressing up as veiled women, but I still think that banning veils in that situation is a fairly extreme response. A robber could also hide most of his face by pulling his hat down and his scarf up, for example, but I rather suspect that Canadian convenience stores in winter serve quite a few customers with their hats down to their eyebrows and their scarves up to their cheeks.

No, I’m in favor of letting pardah-nishin women keep their veils on for almost all their routine business like shopping and traveling, except in cases of major safety or practicality issues. However, I still think it is not necessarily unfair discrimination to expect them to remove their veils when they’re voluntarily participating in the larger society (which pardah-nishin women aren’t supposed to be doing anyway).

No, I’m in favor of letting pardah-nishin women keep their veils on for almost all their routine business like shopping and traveling, except in cases of major safety or practicality issues. However, I still think it is not necessarily unfair discrimination to expect them to remove their veils when they’re voluntarily participating in the larger society (which pardah-nishin women aren’t supposed to be doing anyway).[/QUOTE]
You’ve made some excellent points in this thread Kimstu. However I fail to understand the distinction between a sitting in a classroom and shopping at the market as far as participation in the larger society. If anything, in my view, the shopping trip (whether or not she actually buys anything) exposes her to a far larger society than the class room.

Perhaps you might explain the distinction and why discriminating in one case is okay while not in the other.

Because in a classroom she has an obligation to participate and interact with all the other students. They gain a benefit from this interaction. Maybe someone can dig up a course outline to see what it says about the matter?

Would people be so forgiving if she said she didn’t want to fully participate because there were Chinese people or Jewish people in the class? Yet what she is saying is she won’t comply with what the instructor requires because there are men in the classroom. Remind me again on who is being intolerant here?

I’m confused by this. You think people should be allowed to cut themselves off from society entirely, but that people who only want to mostly cut themselves off from society should be forbidden from doing so? If we’re mandating levels of culture involvement, why not go whole hog, require that people interact with society, and outlaw the purdah entirely?

If participation is a part of her final grade, I don’t see a problem with lowering her overall grade because her dress prevents her from participating fully. I don’t think it’s necessary to throw her out of the class entirely because she can’t get full marks in one area of the grading requirements.

Well, they’re both being intolerant, obviously. But one is being intolerant in the personal sphere, and the other is being intolerant in the professional sphere. Only one of those spheres is fair game for legislation, and it’s not the one the woman is inhabiting, so her level of intolerance simply isn’t germane to the debate. She could by Burqa Hitler, for all I care, that still doesn’t justify the teacher’s actions.

Well, ISTM that things like shopping at the market are just a pragmatic compromise between the principle of pardah and the necessities of life in a non-pardah larger culture. In a society that traditionally supports pardah, a pardah-nishin woman might have had a non-veiled female servant to do the shopping or might have dealt with itinerant vendors from behind a screened window in her home or whatever.

But in most places in North America, you’ve got to go to the store yourself to get your food and you’ve got to go to the doctor at her office and (if your menfolk don’t have a car to drive you) you’ve got to ride on buses and trains that don’t have segregated ladies’ compartments, and so on. So from time to time you’ve got to go out among strangers, even if you accept pardah in principle.

And I think we should tolerate women wearing veils in public in such circumstances (unless there really is a serious safety or practicality issue involved), out of respect for religious freedom. I personally don’t like the custom of pardah myself and wouldn’t want to practice it, but I think other women have a right to do so if they wish. And I think it would be unnecessarily draconian to say that a pardah-nishin woman isn’t allowed to pop down to the corner store under her symbolic invisibility cloak, so that she can buy something she’s run out of without violating her pardah status.

Similar example with different culture and gender roles: Many strict Hasidic Jews consider it immodest for men and women who aren’t related to look directly at each other, or for strangers of opposite sexes to unnecessarily interact with each other. Consequently, if I see a Hasidic-looking man passing me in the street, I’ll slightly turn away my gaze and leave him in his symbolic force-field of invisibility. If he drops something on the sidewalk and I’m walking with a male companion, I’ll probably say to my companion “Hey, go give that guy the paper he dropped” instead of trying to speak to the man myself. If a Hasidic man feels that he’s not supposed to interact with strange women, just as pardah-nishin women aren’t supposed to interact with strange men, then I think he should be able to go about his ordinary private business (even when it unavoidably takes him temporarily into public spaces) without compromising that principle.

HOWEVER. Other people have principles too. And one of the principles of American society is that we are a democratic, egalitarian, open culture, and that in our public life no class or caste (or gender) of individuals is inherently “untouchable” or “invisible” to any other group. We believe in some sort of fundamental equality of personhood of all human beings. (Yes, I know we took a long while to live up to that principle in many cases and we’re still very far from perfect, but I think the principle is worth insisting on nonetheless.) By default, any individual stranger is entitled to the same basic courtesy and respect from us that we would feel entitled to receive ourselves.

THEREFORE. When we voluntarily choose to participate in the common activities of the larger society rather than just unavoidably having to be out in public spaces now and then while in pursuit of our personal needs, then we should uphold that principle of egalitarianism and openness. We should abide by a common baseline of courteous interaction that requires acknowledging other individuals’ existence and allowing them to acknowledge ours, and we should do so in a non-discriminatory way.

That means that if a Hasidic man applies for a job that routinely requires personal interactions with the public, he should not refuse to look directly at female customers or to speak to them in a pleasant and courteous way. It means that if a pardah-nishin woman chooses to enroll in an adult education class with men she’s not related to, she should not maintain a fiction that she’s not really there or invisible to them by wearing a veil over her face. In the common space of any such social participation, the default assumption ought to be that everybody is equally entitled to our acknowledgement and courtesy.

Well, that was a long and complicated answer to a short and simple question, but you asked, so I told you. :slight_smile:

Cutting themselves off from society entirely is absolutely their individual right, if that’s what they want to do. However, if they’re going to demand to be treated as fully equal participants in the activities and institutions of society, then I think they have an obligation to accord all other participants equal acknowledgement and respect, rather than holding themselves aloof from interaction with certain groups.

But you’re still making an arbitrary distinction: you think we should accomodate people who hold an extreme religious view, but only provided they hold the most extreme possible version of it. Someone whose religious views are the slightest bit more lenient, such as this woman, who interprets her religion as requiring the burqa, but allowing some degree of interaction and out-of-home autonomy, does not get the same consideration.

Technically, that would be “Canadian” culture, but I take your point.

It strikes me that your own position is counter to your expressed values, though. How can we have a fundamental equality of personhood, if a certain class of people are prohibited from dressing and behaving in the manner they prefer? Particularly if you are deciding whether or not someone has that right by determining their adherence to your conception of what their religious beliefs should be? Moreover, how can we support the concept that no class should be invisible, while arguing that people who hold a certain set of beliefs should be made literally invisible - which is what you’re doing, when you argue that we should only tolerate the most extreme expression of purdah, the kind that does not allow a woman to participate in a public education?

Those are two pretty radically different situations, though. In the first, the Hasidic man’s beliefs are interfering with his ability to do his job. I don’t have an argument for allowing discrimination against women in burqas when the burqa prevents them from performing a necessary task. But in this case, the woman isn’t performing a job, she’s consuming a service, either as a paying customer in a place of business, or more importantly, as a citizen receiving a state benefit. In neither instance should discrimination against her because of her religious practices be necessary, or legal. To the extent that wearing a burqa interferes with her ability to learn French, it would be reflected in her final grade, which presumably would be based off her objective performance in the class.

Would you argue, therefore, that it would be acceptable to ban someone who is known to have racist ideals from attending a state funded university? Should jocks be barred from campus, because they don’t invite the D&D club to their beer bashes? Or do we toss the nerds out because they don’t go to football games? Can I be flunked out of my Statistics class because I try to avoid the guy two rows over who I think is a jerk?

Okay, yeah, I’m getting ridiculous there, but your answer does just bring us back to my other question: what’s the lower level for acceptable social integration? How far from the norm is one allowed to deviate, before personal beliefs and habits justify open discrimination? And can we really call our society egalitarian, if we reserve equal treatment for those who are already like us?

Personally, I don’t care if she fails or passes anymore than for any other person. But class participation isn’t just for her benefit, but for the benefit of the other students who may want to get good marks or actually learn something in that classroom.

There was no intolerance on the schools part. They accommodated her until it became too onerous, annoying, or what have you, for them to continue it further. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have options. She could have taken the online course in which case she didn’t have to remove her Niqab and participation with undesirable students wasn’t mandatory.
I think there is an obligation on a persons part when they are accepting subsidized education to attempt to participate fully in whatever course they voluntarily sign up for. She knew what the curriculum was when she applied. She just chose not to comply with it, or to only comply with it as much as it she wanted to. If a student won’t participate in the class or with other students as directed by the teacher then they have every right to give her the boot. Assuming she isn’t expected to do things that other students aren’t eg. take off her bra as the Dutchman used as an example.
Why not show up naked in the classroom? Or sit there blowing a tuba? Should the teacher do nothing if the person claims that naked tuba blowing is part of their religion?

Which is why many classes make participation part of the student’s grade. And I don’t have a problem with this student receiving poor marks in participation if her burqa is genuinely interfering with her ability to participate. But I have a hard time believing that participation is such a huge part of this language course that she can’t possibly pass it without participating, nor that not being able to see her face would make it impossible for her to participate at all.

But either way, the point is that a student ability to participate in a class is baked into the grade system. There’s no need to bar her from the class entirely over this issue, when there’s already a mechanism at work to handle students who don’t participate fully.

Of course, there may not be such a mechanism in place. Not all classes require participation, after all. If this class grades strictly on performance on tests, say, what does that do to your argument?

The level of acceptable accomodation an institution (particularly one that’s financed by the state) must make to a person’s religious beliefs isn’t up to the institution. Simply finding someone annoying doesn’t relieve one of legal obligations to that person.

Sure, she could have done that. I don’t know why she didn’t do that. The fact that she could have done it doesn’t justify the school’s actions. She has as much right as any other Canadian to take that class in person. Having another option doesn’t relieve the school of their burden to treat her equally to every other student. Including respecting her religious practices.

This would be news to about 75% of undergraduates on any college campus you’d care to name. And it still ignores both the fact that if participation is important to the class, that importance will be reflected in her final grade, as outlined in the syllabus, and that there’s a great deal of difference between “not participate” and “not participate fully.”

She’s expected to ignore the dictates of her religion. That makes her treatment fairly singular.

Why not indeed?

Because that, entirely unlike wearing a heavy veil, would actually be disruptive to the class, and not simply to the instructor’s prejudices.

And she has the same obligations as any other Canadian if she does.

It’s a class about learning to communicate and interact with other people. Communicating badly and interacting badly with your classmates who have similar communication problems is a crucial part of the learning process - it’s part of the learning curve and difficult to do in volume outside the class. You are obliged to do it as best you can, and saying that you don’t want to communicate in the class makes the class much worse for the rest of the students.

So, no, she can’t ignore her classmates. If she wants to be alone she can do the course from textbooks at home.